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What Do Symmetry and Nudity Have in Common?

By 10/10/2015November 17th, 201626 Comments



When you hire an expert in any area, you don’t just get their expertise. Usually, you also get their passion and love for what they do—or, in this case, where they live. Since I had never been to Italy, I was fascinated. I wanted to learn and see as much as I could.

We arranged for private tour guides in Florence, Verona, and Venice. They were wonderful, witty, and highly educated, with PhDs in history. All of them absolutely loved and deeply cared about their city and its rich history.

Simona was our guide in Florence. She had just finished her PhD in Renaissance history, and since the Renaissance period started there, here are a few excerpts that we taped that were really interesting:

palazzo{via Pinterest}

“When you read Plato, it’s like having in front of you what you see in Florence. The love, the passion he had for symmetry. Symmetry is another word for harmony, like music or mathematical calculations. It’s all based in symmetry. In a way, it’s just like the way you should conduct your life. What you do is measured by everyone around you, and you should always behave like that.”

The second floor of this type of palace was the family residence. It was called the Noble Floor:

noblefloor{via Pinterest}

The courtyard was always inner and hidden, very far from the social image of yourself. The top floor was open like a lodge for hanging clothes. Technical rooms for maids and servants and the kitchens were also on this floor.

“If you look at this courtyard—the arches, circles, and semi-circles—you can see that they are perfectly symmetrical.”

“It’s not only architecture. Everything you do should be well proportioned. It has to be measured, and you have to behave in a proper way, in a good way, so people can see your beauty.”

benchPhoto by Maria Killam

The courtyard was the preparation area for “coming out” to society. It was an area where you would work out and practice the discipline of symmetry, harmony, and balance, so you could show that face when you went out in public. Not for vanity’s sake, but so you could be the best YOU for others.

When the Renaissance philosophers looked at early Greek and Roman statues, they were scandalized by the fact that they were so nude, so naked; however, the Greeks and Romans believed that through showing all of yourself, even the parts you’d normally cover, you were saying, “I offer you the best of my soul.”

Throughout the centuries, there has been more than one moment when Frescoes were covered. There were times in history when artists were hired to work around the clock painting fig leaves on genitals because the nakedness was seen as improper.

I found this interesting, and it’s one of the reasons I wrote my last post. I never want anyone to meet me and think, Wow, she’s so fake and nothing like her blog. I don’t think any other statement made about me would bother me more than that. I’m just as flawed as anyone else, even though so much of Blogland is beautiful every day.

With social networking now, the new buzzword is authenticity. But there’s a fine line between sharing authentically and oversharing. Some of my readers thought that I was oversharing because there are some personalities who could never put their lives out there for the world to critique. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We should all find what we’re really good at, and then do that, whatever it is.

And the same fine line can be drawn about pretending you’re being authentic, when really all you’re doing is constantly broadcasting how great your brand is or your company is.

Socrates once asked Plato what virtue is:

“The soul is made of three parts: our natural desires, our will, which lets us resist our natural desires, and our reason, which tells us when to resist our natural desires and when to obey them. For instance, when you are hungry, and you want to eat, that’s a natural desire. When these three parts of your soul are balanced, you will lead a virtuous life.

“But if the three parts of your soul are out of balance, that leads to badness. If your natural desires are too strong, you will be unable to control your urges.”

The symmetry you see everywhere in Florence was specifically designed to be a constant reminder to be your best self:
Source (I took this exact photo, but this one on Pinterest was better)
When you walk down the streets of Florence, all you see are the facades of all these palaces that are now offices, apartments, government buildings, etc. I think a fascinating coffee table book would be photographs of the courtyards and gardens inside. So different from our country, with our gardens situated all around the home instead. Maybe we’d all be more gentle with each other if we knew how hard everyone else was working inside, getting ready to face the world.
It’s funny. I went to Italy and learned all this stuff in context, so it wasn’t weird or surprising for me to share what I shared in the last post. I get it, though: for a lot of you, that was out of left field, and you’re now wondering what got into my head.
Well, Italy got into it. I’ve wanted to go for so long, and it affected me on so many levels. I learned a lot, and I didn’t want to just leave it all there and forget about it, because now I can be accountable to all of you! Thank you to all of you who shared constructively and empathetically. Your advice means a lot to me.
Has your life ever changed after taking a big trip?
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  • Karen kirby says:

    You Never over share. Through the years we have gotten to know you, share in your victories and feel for your struggles. Because Terreeia is who she is, you are likely to get more out of every experience. She demands it however unconsciously. Just another of her gifts.

    You have such joy in being.

  • KA says:

    I think I changed after going to Australia when I was 18. After visiting both Sydney and Perth, we went to Singapore and Hong Kong, them Hawaii. After HK, Hawaii was pretty, but less interesting. I learned that humidity and I aren’t friends. Then the following year, we visited the other side of the world and family in the Mediterranean, Switzerland, Italy, France and England. What I learned was don’t pack more than you can carry and leave room in the suitcase for treasures you find on your travels, which I still have. I’ve always packed very light ever since. And I’ve traveled to all continents but South America and Antarctica. Plus a ridiculous amount in the US. Don’t ask how I could live in Manhattan for so long with that humidity because I don’t know. I took a lot of showers and cut most of my hair off and still felt like 3 showers a day weren’t enough when it was humid. LOL

  • Tamara says:

    I don’t think your over share at all. How are we to really appreciate and understand your point of view on decarating and color if not as a part of and in the context of a greater whole? Furthermore, international travel is such a transformative experience. Please share all you’ve learned and noticed, it offers al of us an opportunity to benefit from those experiences as well. Never underestimate the benefits of international travel.

  • carolanne says:

    I have left hotels after looking at the room, hubby did not enjoy it but I will not stay in ….. add your word here., by the way, share all you want, we all know your amazing and human…
    I am so enjoying your trip pictures etc, I always do ! … wonderful idea to hire people to show you their town…

  • Pat says:

    Luv ‘ya Maria and thank you for sharing you and Italy. You make both become real for me.
    Glad I don’t have that hotel/restaurant thing as most of my travel has been of a rougher sort across the Pacific. I’d have been sleepy,starved traveler. Tales to tell. People are wonderful, everywhere.
    I left India changed and heading in a different direction. It happened with my first sight of the Ganges at Haridwar. Every molecule in my body shifted as I gazed at the river. Strange feeling. Honored it.

  • Robin says:

    HI Maria. I think anytime you venture out and travel somewhere new, your life will forever change and have new meaning. Change means growth and growth can sometimes be uncomfortable. Visiting Haiti gave me a newfound respect for simplicity. And honesty. We had a guide (his name was Albert) who took us to his village and shared his family history with us–even very personal information. But through his eyes and his experiences we were able to understand his way of life so much better. It was so very different than the ways we knew. I came back with a stronger grip on life, holding tighter to my family, not wanting anything to pull us apart. Family (and friends) were everything to Albert. And it showed in his manner of speaking about them and his life. We have a rather large family (like Albert) and it is so easy to let a small difference (and pride) cause division. I learned how important it was to be open to other people’s views without having to completely embrace said ways. But to always listen and try always to come to an understanding. I didn’t want have a family that never spoke to one another because of differences. I wanted a family like our guide Albert had: close-knit and steadfast. They understood each other’s shortcomings and worked hard to overcome their differences. I believe RESPECT is the word I’m searching for. So…after sharing his world for a bit (and liking what I saw) it prodded me in a new direction. One that I am ever grateful for. Thank you for sharing Italy and yourself with us. It, all of it, is refreshing. As usual, I will eagerly await for new pearls of decorative (and real life) wisdom to be sent directly to my inbox from you. Technology is just amazing! Thanks again.

  • Mary says:

    I always enjoy your writings, but especially your adventures in Italy. I spent some time in Italy more than 25 years ago with 3 Elderhostels and loved every minute. I still relive that time by reading everything I can find set in Italy. I hope you can enjoy your memories as long as I have!

  • Anne says:

    Great post – very thought provoking.

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    This was fascinating, Maria. I was hoping you would share some of the items you came home with. I was expecting pictures of typical souvenirs.
    But lessons on how to live a better life is worth more than a snowglobe or t-shirt.

  • Lois says:

    Hi Maria…when I read your blog about the ” meltdowns”, I instantly related, as it examplified the dark side of the interior design personality, which all of us share…but keep in the closet!!!
    I confess I was amazed you put it out there but knew you must have had a good reason for doing so…and your follow up blog was just genius…and beautiful, educational and inspiring…as are you!!! My respect for you keeps growing, xox!

  • BethB says:

    Maria, my take is that a aspect of symmetry in your life is the unusual balance of strong self-promotion on one hand, and honest self-disclosure on the other.

    It is charmingly real to powerfully promote your method and brand, and at the same time publicly disclose some difficult human struggles you have. Like we all have, right?

    And by the way, I believe the “tortured” part you talked about in your Italy post is based in old fear, and that old part of you is doing its best to protect you, not beliving there is another way. After all, no animal wakes up every morning striving for pain. Not an ant, a dog, a lion or a human. : )

  • StagerLinda says:

    Wow! I can’t tell you how many times when decorating someone’s home I’ve said, “I hate symmetry” and moved each of their candle holders flanking the picture centered over the mantel or the two chairs placed on either side of a console table. Guess I’ll have to rethink what this says about me. Perhaps harmony is boring to me? I completely get the need for the aesthetics of a hotel or restaurant to be ‘right’ for you. The energy of places affects me. When I stage a house, I pick up on the negative energy if the owners are in a troubled marriage, if the children are stressed by the preoccupation of busy parents, etc. It is my job to turn this energy around so the house feels peaceful and inviting. Also, there houses that aren’t model home perfect but have such a warm, inviting vibe that I assure the owners that it will sell quickly. Some of us ‘creatives’ are naturally more sensitive to our surroundings. It can make us be reactionary emotionally — but also can make us super effective and superlative in our chosen occupations. XXX, Linda

    • BethB says:

      Asymmetrical balance creates harmony too, and can look and feel lovely.

      • Maria Killam says:

        I completely agree, there are so many spaces that are far from being symmetrical but usually nothing that a good stylist can’t fix 🙂

  • Arlene says:

    We have been on every continent except Antartica. Every trip changed me inside. The most emphatic change was our trip to Yukon & Alaska. It touch my soul. We were constantly surrounded with untouched nature and the simplicity of the land, business, touristy places and people. This post is beyond of the wisdom and architecture relating to life. Very thought provoking for me Maria. Thanks for sharing. You have become a friend I look forward to visiting every week. I admire your courage to not only know yourself but to tell us. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • I think your environment has a powerful impact on how you feel. I always think of this when I am in a gothic cathedral and then when I am in a “modern” architecture church. You just don’t get the same feeling of majesty in a church with low ceilings and plain walls as you do in a cathedral with super high ceilings and gorgeous architecture.

  • Hi Maria,
    You are exactly the same in person as on your blog which is the reason I continue to read and respect you. If you tried to pretend you were perfect I couldn’t relate and would lose interest…please keep on being you in your stories and don’t worry – you share just the right amount!

  • Benita says:

    Thank you for this post. For me, this post puts the last one in context, just as you wrote that you learned these things in context. Now, your last post is more meaningful for me. I get the meltdowns and applaud you for putting yourself out there. That isn’t the right choice for everyone but it was for you so Brava!

  • Mary says:

    I knew there was something familiar and exciting about your posts. There was a thread of being clear and authentic….Landmark.

    • Maria Killam says:

      That’s so interesting that you could sense that in my writing 🙂 Thanks for sharing that!

  • Andrea says:

    Your pictures from Italy were spectacular and I enjoyed each one, as well as your “behind the scenes” post after the trip. Life’s just a teeny bit messy most of the time and there’s no use pretending it isn’t. The symbolism of geometry and the meaning of symmetry is fascinating and one of my favorite books along those lines is Rose Windows, by Painton Cowan.

  • Robin says:

    I appreciate the conversation about Plato and Symmetry. I’m drawn to symmetry, harmony and balance in my environment – as if they are layers. If the fixed elements are symmetrical, balanced and harmonized, then I can add layers of wanton assymetry, dischord etc – making my surroundings feel alive.

    As far as blogging and authenticity, I have certainly given a great deal of thought to balance – I have a decade of blooging experience. I put a whole lot of myself “out there” and it led to incredible experiences with great highs and great lows – just life, in other words.
    Eventually I didn’t want all that out there anymore so I just took it down. I removed all advertising from my blog and stopped participating in anything sponsored. I keep more to myself now. I kinda feel like it’s all fine. Everyone can do whatever they want. I used to read zillions of blogs and now I only read a few. Yours is one I continue to read – I love color and I appreciate talent. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • Dawn says:

    My life changed in 2011 when I travelled with my husband to London. Before that, my world was within a 20 mile radius of my home. I raised three boys, took care of a large house and yard, ran a custom workroom in the basement, and rode my horse. Although I loved my life, London made me realize just how small and safe I was living. I was lucky enough to go there four times in two years because my husband had business near the city of Bath. We saw so many wonderful things and I’ve never experienced feelings like that before.

  • Susan S says:

    Bravo to you, Maria. I did not comment on your last post because the response was so overwhelming–both good and bad. We continually learn and grow no matter what our age and we still make our mistakes no matter how “enlightened” we consider ourselves to be. Because, after all, we are human beings, not perfect beings.

  • Darlene says:

    I think your 2 most recent posts were just fine, Maria. I’m glad you can be real!! Yes, blogland and instagram are FILLED with seemingly beautiful lives. But this post makes me wonder if they are truly balanced. I really enjoyed reading this post. It put into words what I could not.

  • Noelle says:

    I love your blog and that last post. Thanks for putting it into context with this post.

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